Stormy Political Weather

All eyes were on Scotland for the main political event of the day.

Paisley-raised Liz Truss travelled up to a very dreich Balmoral to Her Majesty’s Aberdeenshire estate where she accepted the Queen’s invitation to form a government. Truss then returned to London, through a thunderstorm, to deliver her first speech as Prime Minister outside 10 Downing Street.

Meanwhile, thunder was heard in the skies above Edinburgh where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government for 2022-23.

The First Minister, through somewhat gritted teeth, congratulated Liz Truss on her appointment but set out why the SNP-led administration at Holyrood was best suited to guiding Scotland through turbulent times.

Nicola Sturgeon announced 18 new Bills for the new parliamentary term, following the 11 already passed this session and the 5 currently in parliament. This covered everything from theWildlife Management (Grouse) Bill to a Bankruptcy and Diligence Bill.

Measures previously side-lined due to Covid-19 (remember that?), such as the Local Visitor Levy to enable local tourist taxes, a Circular Economy Bill, and a Public Health (Restrictions of Promotions) Bill to clamp down on so-called junk food advertising, have all been revived.

However, front and centre was a range of policies to help tackle the cost-of-living crisis – or what the First Minister termed a “humanitarian emergency”. Chief among these was emergency legislation for rent freezes and eviction bans, increases to the Scottish Child Payment and Fuel Insecurity Fund, as well as Scotrail fair freezes.

But Sturgeon pivoted to action required in reserved areas and pushed the UK Government to reform the energy market and take action on rising energy bills, introduce an enhanced windfall tax, while also proposing a four-nation summit to discuss the issue. With apparent limited room for manoeuvre, the constitution was linked to the cost crisis.

Despite the country facing a “humanitarian emergency”, the First Minister reaffirmed the Scottish Government’s intention to hold an independence referendum in October next year, subject to the UK Supreme Court’s determination, with an Independence Referendum Bill.

For the FM, the current crisis highlights the need for independence and where power lies matters, much to the scorn of the Scottish Tories who accused her of continuing with an “unwanted Bill” when people were more concerned about energy bills.

Of course, Sturgeon’s statement comes before the widely expected £170bn package of support for household energy bills from the UK Government. At Holyrood, with hard choices ahead, the Scottish Government’s Deputy First Minister and acting Finance Secretary John Swinney will shortly update Holyrood on an emergency budget review.

With both Truss and Sturgeon at the head of governments that have been in office for a considerable period of time, voter patience for meaningful action in these challenging times may be waning.